Temporal and Spatial Variations in Freshwater 14C Reservoir Effects: Lake Mývatn, Northern Iceland

P. L. Ascough, G. T. Cook, M. J. Church, E. Dunbar, A. Einarsson, T. H. McGovern, A. J. Dugmore, S. Perdikaris, H. Hastie, A. Frioriksson, H. Gestsdottir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Lake Myvatn is an interior highland lake in northern Iceland that forms a unique ecosystem of international scientific importance and is surrounded by a landscape rich in archaeological and paleoenvironmental sites. A significant freshwater reservoir effect (FRE) has been identified in carbon from the lake at some Viking (about AD 870-1000) archaeological sites in the wider region (Myvatnssveit). Previous accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) measurements indicated this FRE was about 1500-1900 C-14 yr. Here, we present the results of a study using stable isotope and C-14 measurements to quantify the Myvatn FRE for both the Viking and modern periods. This work has identified a temporally variable FRE that is greatly in excess of previous assessments. New, paired samples of contemporaneous bone from terrestrial herbivores and omnivores (including humans) from Viking sites demonstrate at least some omnivore diets incorporated sufficient freshwater resources to result in a herbivore-omnivore age offset of up to 400 C-14 yr. Modern samples of benthic detritus, aquatic plants, zooplankton, invertebrates, and freshwater fish indicate an FRE in excess of 5000 C-14 yr in some species. Likely geothermal mechanisms for this large FRE are discussed, along with implications for both chronological reconstruction and integrated investigation of stable and radioactive isotopes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1098-1112
Number of pages15
JournalRadiocarbon: An International Journal of Cosmogenic Isotope Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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